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Some aspects of the first night’s excitement were subdued by the overbearing nature of our leadership. Neither Elle nor Ryan were the ones to blame. Mrs. Davidson made them look laidback in comparison. After she spent two hours lecturing us on the cabin rules, she administered a test – an actual paper examination for tangible proof that we understood. It was excessive, but effective. I knew exactly what would happen if Izzie and I were caught in a compromising position, far greater than disqualification – expulsion.
Camp Artsy wasn’t to be regarded as a holiday for couples. The crystal clear lake and crisp mountain air provided the perfect backdrop for sparking romance. The increased sentence for being caught fraternizing scared the vast majority of students to the point of strictly G-rated interactions across the board. It gave the administration the false sense of satisfaction that accompanied the assumption we were always like that. My friends and I were not strangers to bending the rules, but we had every intention of complying with those. Being sent away from people I was able to share a great sense of comradery with would’ve shattered me. I drudged that fact to the forefront of my mind each time I glanced over at Iz, unwilling to let myself wander to where I often times did.
“Does everyone have a bottle of water and a camp map?” Mrs. Davidson read from her clipboard.
Each member of our group answered in the affirmative. She checked off the item with her pen.
“Ryan, do you have the group’s task materials in your backpack?”
“Yep. We’re ready to rock.” He adjusted the strap.
“Everybody stretch. Staying loose prevents injuries.” Elle took a wide stance and reached to the right with her left arm.
“How’s your eye?” Iz bent her leg and pulled it up from behind.
“Better. My drops didn’t sting this morning.” I polished out the smudges on my glasses with the hem of my t-shirt. I returned them to my face.
“I’m happy to hear that.”
“When are you reporting to Miller?” I looked over at her with a knowing smile.
She warded off one of her own. “Probably lunch. I spy because I care, not for lack of trust.”
“I can’t be a spy, but you can? That seems a little unfair.”
“That’s life. You should see it as a gift, actually. This way, you can live vicariously through me.“ She quipped with ease, trying hard to keep a straight-face.
“Stretch, Milo. You’re the one we’re concerned about!” Ryan ordered.
I followed his voice. He used that opportunity to mime that I needed to move away from Izzie.
I walked over to where he was.
“We were talking.” I kept my voice low as I half-heartedly stretched.
“You looked too happy.”
“That is a punishable crime?”
“It is this week.”
I rolled my eyes. “This is excessive.”
“Think of the end game. If we win, you’ll get to spend spring break in her hometown, instead of away from her.”
“That would be nice.” I admitted.
“Eye on the prize, my friend. Eye on the prize.”
“She’s not a commodity.”
“A New York vacation is. Try to focus.”
“If I’m not allowed to talk to her, who am I allowed to converse with?”
“I don’t care what you do, as long as it’s not done with her. I will fight you if you make us lose.” He gave a final warning as the teacher in charge of the junior class’ first activity.
Ryan was given the first clue by Mrs. Davidson. She promptly left to report to her post along the course.
He unfolded the slip of paper as the rest of us crowded around him.
“It starts with a spark, a burning desire that resonates within. To be shared with the world, it must be nurtured in the right environment. Make the dream a reality.” He read for all of us.
“Start a fire in one of the firepits.” Elle solved at rapid speed.
There were twelve firepits at Camp Artsy, scattered in different areas. We bolted in the direction of the nearest one, trying to secure it for ourselves. Another group had the same idea, it turned into a full blown race very quickly. To gain the advantage when we were almost there, Finn pushed Sami. She landed in the middle of the unlit pit unharmed.
“It’s theirs.” Mr. Brook, the teacher in charge of monitoring the camp site told the other teams they stampeded to a stop.
The other group ran off in pursuit of another pit, unable to waste valuable time arguing.
“To earn the next clue, you have to build a fire using materials you collect from the forest. Be careful not to make the flame too big. It has to be completely extinguished before you can move forward.” He instructed.
Nick took the lead. His father took him camping a lot as a child. The rest of us collected the supplies they ordered as they prepared the pit. Using dried wood and friction, they sparked an ember, which set ablaze the nest of dry vegetation and twigs we found.
“That counts as a fire.” The teacher approved, snapping a picture of us around it.
We suffocated the budding flames with dampened leaves. Sami stomped out the remaining embers with her combat boots.
“Here is your next clue.” He handed us our next slip of paper.
“Shooting for the stars is easy, but getting there requires precision and focus. Ground yourself, aim, and let your ambitions soar. Your target may be ever changing, but this one is not.”
We started running to the other side of camp. The object of that task was to have one member of our team hit one of the targets with a bow and arrow. Elle was assigned as our shooter during the planning process that took place months prior. She took a firm stance, squinted her eyes to lock on the target, drew back her bow and pierced the bullseye of the target. Our team cheered for her. I could see Anna clapping from the corner of my eye. Her subtle way of displaying decency made my embarrassment of the fact that we dated dwindle slightly. I was able to fool myself into believing that what we were wasn’t completely superficial, that I was attracted to her as a person.
“That’s how we do it, Elle!” Ry held up both of his hands.
“Piece of cake.” She slapped hers to his with a small smirk.
“That was very impressive. I might just have to make your bed time thirty minutes later.” Mrs. Davidson congratulated us.
“You have a bed time?!” The leader of a rival team cackled.
“8:00 o’clock sharp. Structure is clearly working in their favor.” Mrs. Davidson replied.
We groaned in embarrassment as the other team laughed at us.
“The clue, can we have it and leave?!” Sami demanded.
“Yes, sorry.” Mrs. D whispered apologetically as she placed it in her outstretched hand.
We returned to the woods just outside of the archery range, wanting to distance ourselves from the sight of humiliation. The other scavenger hunt challenges included figuring out how to drop an egg off of the zipline tower without it breaking; we utilized Finn’s engineering savvy. Ryan raced another team to capture a flag. We were asked to walk in a unique way, which Sami completed by walking on her hands. Our last clue was – “Determination, power, and will combined with skill will earn you a spot center stage. Step out of your comfort zone, display a talent the judges wouldn’t have known.”
We walked to the outdoor stage, needing time to figure out what we were going to do.
“Okay, so the teachers do keep track of who does what. Teams that have the same people doing everything get points deducted. Finn, Sami, Elle, Nick, and I are all out. Of the people left, who can do what?” Ryan delegated.
“I can play the piano.” I volunteered.
Izzie smiled over at me. “I vote that he plays. The only thing I can do is dance.”
“That’s not true. You’re great with pop culture references and quotes.”
“I doubt that useless trivia is what they had in mind.”
“It’s not useless; it’s not essential, but entertaining, which is generally the case in personal talents.”
“Separate and stop flirting.” Ryan snapped.
“You’re like magnets.” Elle took Izzie’s hand and pulled her away from me.
“We haven’t talked in over two hours.” I argued on our behalf.
“Slow moving magnets, but magnets none the less.”
“How did we fall behind like this?” Nick inquired.
“We walked here. They must’ve ran. It’s not a big deal. We’ll catch up.” Sami shrugged.
“We won’t win with that attitude. We’re picking up the pace. They have a piano. Let’s go. ” Elle grabbed my arm and dragged me over to the teachers in charge.
“What should I play?” I stumbled along, trying to keep up with her fast pace as she pulled me along like a ragdoll.
“It doesn’t matter as long as it sounds nice.”
“Is this a duet of some sort?” Ms. Baker asked once we arrived.
“No, I’m here to speed him along. What place are we?”
“Second. One of the other groups had to revise their plans, the member that wanted to perform has already competed. Which of you is performing?”
“Me. I’m going to play the piano.”
“How nice. What song?” She pressed her pen to her clipboard.
“A medley of Bennie and The Jets and Tiny Dancer by Elton John.”
“A crowd favorites. I can’t wait.” She scribbled down my response and walked away to consult with the other judges.
Elle cursed beneath her breath.
I looked over at her with an eyebrow raised. “Is there a problem with my selections?”
“You’re going to be a girl magnet with one of those songs. I don’t want a certain someone to get upset. You’re not allowed to be charming.“
“I’m not –“
“I’m serious. Don’t say anything or smile. And for the love of God, do not sing. You get too much attention as it is.”’
“Did she say that?” I lowered my voice.
“No, I did just now.”
“Has she said anything about me?”
“I’m not having this conversation with you right now. Make sure you know your chords.”
“But I need to sing, the song will not make sense otherwise.”
“Fine, but I warned you.” She pointed at me and walked away.
I used my limited time to focus. Over winter holiday, I learned contemporary songs that I enjoyed and added personal flourishes to them to pass the time quicker. The person in line before me did a series of backflips. The crowd went wild. It was intimidating to follow an act that was universally adored. There was a crowd by that point; other junior groups were waiting to perform and the first year students had finished their morning activity by the time we were on our final challenge. Walked out onto the stage by myself and sat down at the piano bench.
“May I warm up?” I rested my fingers on the keys, but refrained from applying pressure.
“Yes, but do so quickly.” The music teacher, Mr. Walden, answered.
I glided my fingers across the keys, ensuring it was in tune. I didn’t spend more than a few seconds on that process. I proceeded into the song without a verbal introduction. My full attention was focused on making my interpretation of the piece sound nice. When I was done, I was treated to a round of applause.
“Are you sure you’re in the correct department? I’ve never seen you dance, but your musical ability is –“
“He my dancer. Very talented. He stay with me.” Ms. G interrupted his attempt to persuade me to switch departments.
“I teach math. My opinion is very general, but I thought you played the song very well. You’re free to rejoin your group.” Ms. Baker intervened.
There were an uncomfortable number of eyes on me as I made my way over to my team. A group of first year girls were huddled together. As I passed, one of them was pushed forward, almost bumping into me.
“Hi.” She awkwardly waved.
“Hello, may I help you?”
“No, we were just – you played well.” She blushed.
“Thank you.” I offered them a polite smile to convey my gratitude.
“You made us proud.”Iz offered me her hand as soon as I arrived where our group was standing.
“Good.” I shook it, trying my best not to smile.
I didn’t want to let go of her hand when she stopped shaking my hand in a friendly manner; I did to keep from getting into trouble. The eight of us sat down in the audience and enjoyed the rest of the impromptu performances. Second place was respectable. We had plenty of chances to earn more points.
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